Tag Archives: social rules

Social Rituals

Taking a break from all that stuff about labels (for now.  mwahaha).  I’ve had part of my brain mulling over social rituals for a while now, and as they recently came up in a conversation with a friend, I figured now is as good a time as any to write about them.

Social rituals have a long history of baffling and/or offending me.  My current favorite example is the “hi, how are you?” ritual.  It used to REALLY bother me.  A person comes along and asks me how I am without actually meaning it, and I am socially obligated to say that I’m fine regardless of how I’m actually doing, and then return the question knowing that I won’t get an honest reply.  It tapped right into my “why is lying considered polite?” confusion (of which I still have many examples, but that’s a post for another time).  The ritual wasn’t just confusing to me, it was downright offensive.

Then I happened upon an explanation for the ritual, and rather suddenly it stopped bothering me altogether.  See, it isn’t just meaningless social noise as I once thought.  It’s a ritual that carries a meaning other than the literal words.

So the words go kind of like this:

Them: Hi, how are you?

Me: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?

Them: I am fine as well.

But the actually meaning of the words is more like this:

Them: Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.

Me: Why thank you, I acknowledge you as a person as well.

Them: Thank you.

Presto chango!  Meaningless social noise has turned into a ritual of courtesy and connection between two people who are likely otherwise fairly unconnected.

I can view shaking hands the same way.  It isn’t simply the neurotic need of people to grab ahold of me (ok, it is still that, but importantly, it’s MORE than that).  It’s a way to create a sense of connection between two people, to help the people to relax a bit around each other and smooth further interaction.  It’s important for me to remember that most people out there are not so bothered by strangers touching them as I am, and touch helps many people feel a minor sense of connection with whoever it is they touched/were touched by.  This one is not as easy for me to participate in since it requires that I either be ok with touching strangers or simply grit my teeth and get through it, but at the very least I don’t find it particularly offensive at this point.  I understand why people do it and why they want me to do it.

I have, at this point, decided that when I see social gestures or rituals that seem to have no meaning, I will assume that there is a meaning and it just isn’t immediately obvious to me.  It may not even wind up having a meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean it has no meaning for the people who use it.

For instance – a while back on the wrongplanet forums I saw someone asking about why some subgroup of the population (usually girls) interacts with each other the way they do.  Specifically, lots of fast-paced chatter, talking over each other, with a noticeable lack of actual information being exchanged.  The general attitude of those in the thread was condescension and derision for that particular mode of conversation, with several people decrying it as totally meaningless.  Now, it’s true that interacting in such a way would be meaningless *for me.*  I would find it stressful and un-fun, so I don’t socialize that way.  However, I prefer to assume that it does have some sort of meaning for the people who do socialize that way.  Even if absolutely nothing else, it seems quite likely that it serves that purpose that so many rituals do – creating a sense of connection between the people participating.

Thus far it’s actually been really helpful to me to view various kinds of social interaction as rituals.  While it doesn’t explain everything, it does take me a lot further than I was before, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who may be confused or offended by the strange social rituals and accompanying obligations that are in the world at large.

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Sims Social

I don’t think I write posts here frequently enough.  Apparently I suck at balancing, and lean towards “not posting often” in an effort to refrain from posting all willy-nilly like.  Anyway, that’s not the point of this post.  The point of this post is the facebook game The Sims Social.

I admit it, I play.  Like many, many things I do, I do it somewhat obsessively, because I’m like that.  What I find interesting is that the game is chock full of small tidbits of social lessons.  I figured I’d list a few of them here (whatever I can think of off the cuff, really.  apparently I am not sufficiently obsessive about this blog to really plan things out).

1. Socializing is good, but it has to be balanced.  Too much isolation is limiting, but so is too much socializing.  Personally (irl) I tend to err towards too much isolation.

2. When conversing, it’s important to let the topic change.  Talking lots and lots and lots on one particular thing is not such a good thing (obviously, in real life this has a bit more nuance).

2a. It’s ok to talk about yourself.  It’s not ok to make yourself the only topic of conversation.

3. “Friends” is a bottom-tier positive label, not a top-tier.  There are many and lots of layers of social relationships, not just a few.

4. Friendships take maintenance.  The higher-level the friendship, the more maintenance it requires.  Without regular positive contact, they tend to go away.

5. Negative relationships also take maintenance.  Apparently relationships in general are subject to entropy.

6. If a friendship is going bad, sometimes it’s easier to just let it go and start over from the beginning than it is to try to make it be what it used to be.

7. You don’t insult your friends.  “Friendly insults” are rarely friendly.

8. The closer you are to someone, the more things you can do with them.  You don’t do high-level actions with low-level friendships.

9. Even the most introverted sim needs to talk to people once in a while.

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Rules I accept but don’t understand

In this case: fashion!  There are rules for clothes and what one can wear in public, and I find many of those rules to be very strange.

Ok, I get the basics.  There are certain body parts that must be covered at all times in public, unless one is in a location where the rules have been very explicitly changed.  It is considered important to cover more than those certain parts in most situations so as to avoid embarrassment or faux pas.  I am ok with all of those things.

Except then there are rules about exactly how one is supposed to do that covering.  Once when I was young, I had a full slip that was designed to go under a dress.  To my eyes, it looked pretty much like a dress in and of itself.  It covered everything that was supposed to be covered, it was opaque, so it seemed to me to be perfectly adequate covering.  So one day I went outside in it, and was chatting with a neighbor.  As soon as my mom saw me she rushed outside and brought me in, and scolded me for going outside in my underwear.  I got the message that what I did was incorrect, but I have never quite understood why.

Years ago when I worked in retail, one of my co-workers was scandalized by some dresses we once got, because they had adjustable straps.  That’s when I learned that adjustable straps go on underwear, and some people are upset at the idea of them on anything meant to show.  Ok, that helps explain why the slip was underwear instead of a dress, but I still don’t get why adjustable straps are so awful.

I also find the difference between undergarments and bathing suits to be a little perplexing.  They cover the same things, and while bras and panties are not always made to be opaque, they certainly can be.  Yet at a swimming pool, it is ok to go around in a swimsuit, but not ok to go around in underwear.

When I worked retail, I was also perplexed at how people treated trying on swimsuits.  Apparently an outfit that one would happily wander around in at a pool causes significant embarrassment to be seen in at a store.  Rather predictably, I was very confused.

I can’t say I understand these things all that much more than I did when I was a child.  They seem arbitrary and senseless to me.  Still, I am aware they exist.  So I follow the rules, because I have learned that even if I think the game is silly, it is important to play it anyway in order to avoid social backlash.

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